David McCullough Essay Prizes

David McCullough in 2019

The Gilder Lehrman Institute is pleased to announce the launch of the 2022 David McCullough Essay Prizes. Named for David McCullough, Pulitzer Prize– and National Book Award–winning historian and member of the Gilder Lehrman Institute Board of Trustees, and honoring his career telling America’s stories and examining its histories, this contest recognizes outstanding high school student research essays with cash prizes of up to $10,000.

Students currently in 10th, 11th, or 12th grade in our National Academy of American History and Civics are eligible and encouraged to participate. They are invited to submit an original essay, written independently or for a 2021–2022 class, that has been revised, expanded, and adapted to conform with the McCullough Prize specifications.

All participants will receive a certificate of participation suitable for framing. Prize winners will receive cash awards, as follows:

  • 1st Prize: $10,000 (plus a $500 prize awarded to the school)
  • 2nd Prize: $5,000 (plus a $500 prize awarded to the school)
  • Nine 3rd Prizes: $1,000 each

To be considered for the David McCullough Essay Prizes, students or their teachers or parents can submit their entry by 8:00 p.m. ET on Monday, June 6, 2022. The entries will be reviewed by a panel of Gilder Lehrman master teachers who will choose the pool of finalists, from which the winners will be chosen by a jury of eminent historians. Essays will be evaluated for their historical rigor, the clarity and correctness of their style, their use of evidence, and their qualities of empathy and imagination. Winners will be announced and notified no later than July 2022.

Submissions for this year’s contest are now closed. 


  • Word Count: Essay should be approximately 1,500–2,500 words. (Note that this word count does not include footnotes, endnotes, or citations.) Essays will be judged on quality of argument and depth of research, so a longer essay is not necessarily a better one!
  • Font and Page Style: Papers should be written and submitted in Times New Roman, 12 point font with margins of one inch at the top, bottom, and sides. Essays should be free of teacher commentary or other marginalia—such changes should be integrated into the text.
  • Primary Sources: Essays must focus on a primary source document in American history from the years 1600–2000 with a copy of that document attached as an appendix. Top essays will focus on this and other primary source documents (letters, photographs, broadsides, etc.) as the basis for affirming their theses.
  • Secondary Sources: Top essays will use scholarly secondary sources beyond the textbook. Textbooks can be referenced only for general background information.
  • Organization: Top essays have an introduction, body, and conclusion, and a clearly stated, well-developed thesis statement with supportive historical evidence. 
  • Essay Topics: Essays can be on any topic related to American history from the 1600s to 2000. 
  • Citations: The best essays have clear, complete, and consistent citations. Students must document their sources and evidence, using any one of the following three formats: MLA, APA, or Chicago Manual of Style (of the three, Chicago is preferred but not required). Regarding internet sources, please make sure that there is information beyond URLs in their citations, such as the author and title of the source. 
  • Bibliography: Each essay is required to include a bibliography listing all sources, dividing the bibliography between primary and secondary sources.

2022 Contest Winners

More than seventy 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students in our National Academy of American History and Civics submitted essays. These entries were reviewed by a panel of our master teachers, with twenty finalists then reviewed by a jury of historians.

The eleven prize winners, including links to their entries, are as follows:

First Prize and $10,000: Kelsey Carlos-Keli’ikipi, Kamehameha Schools Kapālama Campus (Honolulu, HI) for “Senator Daniel K. Inouye: How Senator Inouye’s Advocacy Helped Native Hawaiians Reclaim Kahoʻolawe”

Second Prize and $5,000: Liliana Feyk, Sage Creek High School (Carlsbad, CA) for “The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion: African American Women in World War II”

Third Prize and $1,000 (nine winners, listed alphabetically)

  1. Brian Chan, Hunter College High School (New York, NY) for “American Attitudes toward the Annexation of Hawaii: Military, Morality, and Misrepresentation”
  2. Jackson Fels, Brunswick School (Riverside, CT) for “To Peking for Peace: How Daring Diplomacy Transformed Sino-American Relations”
  3. Isaiah Glick, Berkeley Carroll School (Brooklyn, NY) for “‘To Shape the National Debate’: The Coalition against Détente Diplomacy, 1973–1981”
  4. Liliana Hug, Salamander Meadows Homeschool (Mill Run, PA) for “Diplomacy for the People: How Frances Perkins Shaped Landmark Social Legislation of the New Deal”
  5. Maya Narang, The Brearley School (New York, NY) for “How American Was ‘America First’?”
  6. Kevin Park, Ridgewood High School (Ridgewood, NJ) for “The Defense of Iceland Agreement: How a Small, Pacifist Nation Defeated the US”
  7. Victor Robila, Hunter College High School (New York, NY) for “Passenger Pigeons: Technology, a False Sense of Security, and Their Disappearance”
  8. Aaron Siegle, Our Lady of Good Counsel High School (Olney, MD) for “Thunder in the Tundra: The Enduring Legacy of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act”
  9. Myranda Webster, Nashua-Plainfield High School (Nashua, IA) for “Deutsch Verboten: Iowa’s Babel Proclamation Leads to Discrimination”

Previous Winners